To kick off One Book Lane’s celebration of Irish fiction, we sat down for a chat with two of our favourite storytellers from the Emerald Isle.
In the first of a series of interviews between Irish authors, Cathy Kelly asks the lovely Ella Griffin five questions about writing her wonderful new novel based around a little Dublin florist, The Flower Arrangement.
What drew you to the idea of writing a novel set around the blissful Blossom and Grow in The Flower Arrangement – which I adored, by the way?
Whenever I saw someone on the street with a bouquet, I always wondered who the flowers were for? Were they a declaration of love? A final goodbye? An anniversary present? A grovelling apology? Every bouquet tells a story and the person who knows all those stories is the florist. She (there are male florists but most of them are women) is involved in every life event. Births, weddings, funerals. How often do you get a chance to write about all those things and to write about a setting as beautiful as a flower shop? l couldn’t resist it!
I realised that flowers say so many things to people when I was reading this wonderful novel – that we can sometimes use flowers to say ‘sorry’ or ‘I love you’ when we can’t find the words.
Do you think it’s useful and helpful to have this glorious way of communicating when sometimes words are too hard?
Words get old and tired so quickly. Think of ‘I love you’. The first time you hear those words, the doors of your heart fly open. By the time you’ve heard them for the 100th time, they don’t have the same effect. But flowers (and music) never, ever lose their power. A single rose, whether it’s from the garden or wrapped by a florist will pick the lock of a heart that’s shut tight.
You worked in the marvellous Appassionata flower shop in Dublin for research for the novel (they did my wedding flowers!!!! I love them!) – what astonishing thing did you learn about flowers from them that you never knew before…?
Like how to revive flowers or about the care flowers need when they come into the shop?
The flowers on the cover of the book were shot outside the workroom of Appassionata. I spent an afternoon there. It’s a huge space crammed to the rafters with the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen in your life. (Your wedding bouquet must have been heavenly!) I can still remember watching one florist spending nearly an hour submerging exquisite purple orchids in three-foot-high cylinders of water. I picked up lots of tips about how ‘condition’ flowers while I was researching the book. My favourite? When the heads start to drop, bring roses back to life by standing them in a jug (or a mug) of boiling water overnight. It really works!
I find that some characters are easier to write in a book than others. I don’t know why but they just fly. Did any character just leap onto your computer with this book and why?
My heroine, Lara, was so easy to write. I just loved her so much, right from the start. She is a kind of miracle worker. A complete natural with flowers. She reads peoples’ feelings and uses flowers to heal them. But what she doesn’t seem to realise is that she needs healing too! Writing her gave me a chance to write about the loss of a parent and a child. And to find out what happens when a woman in her thirties falls head over heels for a man who is ten years younger. I really miss being in her head and in her flower shop. I might have to write a sequel to her story!
When you’re writing a book, what do you do to relax? I love crochet and binge-watching TV shows – what do you do?
Well, sometimes I phone you for a chat, Cathy. And ask you to talk me down from the ceiling (again!) And when I’m not on the ceiling, I do quite a lot of dog walking (there’s a lot of dog to walk. We have a huge deerhound!) And yes, there’s something lovely about knowing you can dive into a good boxset at the end of the day!